Author: Duane Fonseca

HE MAY BE one of the most celebrated riders in UAE racing history but Tadhg O’Shea has a lot to prove, particularly this season where a change of guard coupled with his title defence bid makes competing a truly interesting challenge for the Irishman. The 36yo has been riding in Dubai since 2001 and when he turns up at Jebel Ali this weekend the spotlight is bound to be on him. “I don’t get fazed anymore and pressure was never a thing that bothered me before. You’ll always have butterflies going into bigger meetings but the intensity of it is fantastic and it’s a great adrenaline buzz and that’s what drives me on,” O’Shea told us in this interview. The Purbred Arabian Group 1 Kahayla Classic, a race he won on Mizzna in 2008, winning rider spoke about a lot more and why Dubai is such a special place for him.

Al Adiyat: A lot of changes regarding your employers. How are you approaching the new season?

O’Shea: It is a new start and I am obviously looking forward to linking up with Mr Khalid Khalifa Al Nabooda. I’ve ridden a lot for him since I’ve been in Dubai, but it was never on a retained basis and I’m glad to say I’m retained first choice jockey for all his Purebred Arabians. The colours have been lucky for me in the past and hopefully it continues and it’s great to be linking up again with Ernst Oertel; we enjoyed many successes together at Al Asayl. As far as riding Thoroughbreds go, it’s going to be very exciting riding for Satish Seemar at Zabeel Stables. Towards the end of last season I learned my time with Grandstand Stables and Ali Rashid Al Rayhi had come to an end. There was no fall out. It was an amicable decision from both parties and we’ve gone our separate ways. So Richard Mullen my long time rival and mate suggested I work for Zabeel, which has also been a lucky stable for me over the years. I had a meeting with Bhupat Seemar and he said he would speak with Satish if I was interested and thankfully I’m riding out for Zabeel on the Thoroughbred scene. So, hopefully, if Richie can get it wrong once or twice throughout the year and I’ll be there to pick up the pieces!

And does that throw the rivalry between Richard and you out of the window?

That never ends. We are great mates off the track but when we put on the colours we are very professional. Over the years we’ve sat beside each other in the jockey room and he’s a good mate but you cannot lose that competitive edge. No matter how good mates you are off the track, when we go down to the furlong pole there will be no inch given!

There’s more than plenty riders here this season. How do you think things will pan out?

You always have to up your game. This year there are more new jockeys than I’ve ever seen and every stable seems to have two to three jockeys and apprentices so it’s going to be very, very competitive. But that’s what it’s all about. The prize money is good in the UAE and you have to up your game every year and never rest on your laurels. Thankfully, it’s been a very, very lucky place for me so far with winning six jockeys’ championships. So for the season ahead my main goal is to try and ride as many winners as I can and stay in one piece. With the number of jockeys here I think the championship will be won with a lot lower number of wins than previously. The winners will be spread out across a lot of jockeys. Thankfully, I regained my championship last season with 44 winners, but I see somewhere in around the high 20s and low 30s being enough to win the championship this time.

Has the quality of riders improved as well?

The quality has certainly increased with riders coming in from France, the UK and Ireland and that’s just for the domestic season. So it’s extremely competitive and there won’t be an inch given or taken so I’m looking forward to the season ahead. Jobwise, it’s all new, but I like new challenges and I hope I can do well for both stables.

What was your summer break like?

I kept fit throughout the summer riding Purebred Arabians in Europe and had a few winners too, but I managed to  freshen up at the same time as we holidayed as a family.

What’s family life like? Must be pretty hectic during the season?

My sons Darren and Aaron are now at an age where they follow daddy’s progress and if I have a good day they say well done but if I have no winners then they ask me why no winners Change of guard for Tadhg but plucky Irishman ready to go Tadhg receives his sixth UAE Jockeys Championship in the presence of his sons Issue 649 - Thursday 25 Octo ber 2018 29 Magic Master today so they put things into perspective. Not all days can be good days, but when you come home and see the kids, you try and switch off from racing and just enjoy them growing up. Dubai is a fantastic place to do that. A lot of people want to base themselves here because of the family life, it’s safe for kids and the lifestyle is good.

What are your thoughts on the extended season? 

It’s a good thing. When I came to ride here we used to always race in April, but the worrying concern over the years was they felt they would not have enough jockeys but that’s not going to be the case this year because we are overpopulated with jockeys. It’s good to be racing in April and long may it continue. I think it’s a good start with four meetings; hopefully that will double or triple in the coming years.

What drives Tadhg O’Shea?

Well every season, I look forward to getting off to a good start. I think I’m about 40 winners behind Richard Hills in the race for the winningmost UAE jockey and hopefully I can stay in one piece and pass Richard’s record as the most successful jockey. That would be fantastic. I’m lying second on that list and it keeps me hungry and keeps me getting up in the morning.

Any races you have your eyes on?

I’d like to have another winner on World Cup night. I was quite lucky to win with Mizzna in the 2008 Kahayla Classic. I’ve had a couple of seconds on the night with Green Coast for Doug Watson in the 2010 Godolphin Mile and Charh for Erwan Charpy in the 2007 Kahayla so the ultimate goal is to always win at the highest level, be it on a Thoroughbred or Purebred Arabian. To win on World Cup night would always be the goal. I’d like to double my tally of World Cup night wins.

Being one of the most liked jockeys in the UAE, does that put any undue pressure on you?

The crowd here is fantastic and you get to know the faces over the years, but they’ll also let you know when you’re having a bad day. I don’t get fazed anymore and pressure was never a thing that bothered me before. You’ll always have butterflies going into bigger meetings but the intensity of it is fantastic and it’s a great adrenaline buzz and that’s what drives me on. You have to have your goals because that’s what keeps you going.

Riding second to Richie at Zabeel, does that feel strange?

I was very grateful to be honest to get the opportunity to ride for Zabeel. Richie has been there for nearly 12-13 seasons and they have a great team so to try and help out in some small way and get some chances to ride for them is really good. Zabeel has been a lucky stable for me over the years. I won the Listed Jebel Ali Sprint for Satish aboard Magic Master in 2005 because I had no ride and they asked if I was ok to ride their first reserve in the race. Richie has first call and I’d be very happy to deputise.